ELEVEN GAMES into
last season the Clovis West ( Fresno) boys' soccer team was slogging through
long stretches of uninspired play and had just lost its second match when coach
Neil Deans called the players together--not for a pep talk but to deliver a
stern ultimatum. "I said, Put up or shut up," he recalls. "You can
talk it or you can walk it."
That may not seem
like much of a speech, but the challenge, coming from the normally upbeat and
encouraging Deans, ignited the team, which won its final 22 games and marched
to a No. 1 national ranking. "It was a different feeling after that
meeting," says Deans. "They just turned it up."
also turned up expectations. "After our awards dinner [last April], one of
the parents came up and said, 'We've got to do it again,'" says Deans.
"I was like, Oh, crap."
Clovis West, now
11-3-4, could indeed rise again to No. 1, mainly because it returned 12
players, including high-scoring forwards Ben Milam (headed to Cal) and Tyler
Reinhart (below), as well as goalie Alex Lloyd, who had 21 shutouts last year
and has 10 this year, as well as a .33 goals-against average. Lloyd, a budding
mathematician and a 4.6 student, had the highest score in the California
Mathematics League as a sophomore. He's hoping to attend an Ivy League school,
and he applies his academic skills--along with some serious swagger--on the
pitch. "Playing the angles as a math guy helps me," he says.
"[Also] I always raise my game when there's pressure. I'm very confident in
myself, to say the least."
That goes for the
whole team. "We know we have targets on our backs," says Milam.
"Teams get more dirty and physical against us ... but the confidence of
last season has really carried over."